Monday, 21 March 2016

Reveries of libraries, the sixteenth : BORROWER’S BIOGRAPHY

Philip Harvey
From the first a sermon or saying had only to connect, pastoral work is not done by the book, though they help the pastor. The library of my father, his study of theology and classics, redolent of Erinmore pipe tobacco, was sanctum sanctorum. This was his sphere of counter-platitudes, a reference resource of subtle colours, a time to dwell on ‘inscapes’, all Greek to me.

It was always going to be like falling into a dream before falling into a dream, reading wideawake picture books. The library of my township childhood, municipal redbrick, was set back from the expletive deleted market-day street. There to understand Bad Banksia Men, Miss Tiggy-Winkle, and Jim Hawkins was my heart’s fascination.

Then, coming to the city coincided with word growth, vocabulary that only books could match. The library of suburban youth, all modern fittings and newest overhead borrowing mechanisms, covered everything with clarity, like bookwrap. The desire was to join as many libraries as possible, to turn them inside out, to fossick in all seasons their eclectic selections.

Encyclopedia entries will transmogrify a wet Wednesday, where sport is a chimera, repudiated. The library of the school burnished projects as I sailed toward the Indies in search of newfound words and fabled images. The how and why wonder books of youth beckoned with their dress-up of the messy truth outside the rainy windows.

Et Cetera was everything that anyone could expect, Et Cetera elicited hush, it could do your head in. The library of the State rose storied around green-lit reading desks, elevators clanked, and a gong ended time. In that pre-internet shelter, Victorian ambitions of omniscience, having all the stuff, were almost met.

While the exhausting scale of intricate how and why waited, up the street. The library of the university meant business, affirmed my existential nothingness, even as it handed out delirious lessons, dozens. It had all the answers, but which ones to choose; promised prizes for those who asked the right questions, but where next?

My desires would find me out, and bookshops were temptation, luring me with serendipity, every kind of bookshop: they had to be given up for Lent. The library that is mine, holding the house together, is that reward of time and pay, and will not be shed. There I return any time of year to reacquaint myself with personal friends, their very oddity part of their familiarity.

There are spiritual journeys where work takes us, so that even uneventful days are integral to larger meaning. The library that I manage could be said to be a spiritual journey; it’s hardly a proof of God, but is filled with reminders that God is here. Nowadays outside, all seems to be about the selfie-est person getting the attention, but inside here is where flow the real currents of deep down life.

Florists, galleries, record stores and favourite cafés are city life, and every so often there is this. The library up the stone stairs near the Dress Circle of the theatre but turn right, downtown. Horse-power traffic noise rises to the windows, we imagine they are horse-drawns instead, when these windows looked out on bushland grid that was a little piece of Palladian London.

Fulfilment is a recurrent wish of collectors, to deck the halls with knowing, to save and not to count the cost. The library of faraway and overseas, paying homage or just getting out of the weather, meets us on a day out. I recoil from its outmoded giant science, envy its centuries of printed certitudes, feel heavy thinking of its havens of dead authors waiting to be heard again.

Though I can’t help coming back to my own books, arranged wherever new shelves are possible through eleven rooms, time-abundant evidence of verbal addiction. The library at home, my more than personal collection, my lifetime, the library I will die with, most likely. Someone else will sort it out, keep what they want whatever the Will, and I won’t be there to argue, like all libraries at the edge of dispersal.

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